Fr. Constantine Tsapralis

 

Fr. Constantine Tsapralis - A Short Biography

1869 - 1942

 

For additional Tsapralis photographs please visit the Tsapralis Virtual Photo Album.

For photographs relating to Holy Trinity's history please visit the Holy Trinity Virtual Photo Album.

 

Greeks arrived in San Francisco as early as the 1860s. They were primarily sailors. By the 1880s, Greek immigration had increased dramatically. In 1892, the first Greek organization in San Francisco was founded, the Hellenic Mutual Benevolent Society. In 1900, it was estimated that 2,000 Greeks were living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The first Russian Orthodox Church in San Francisco was founded in 1857.  Early Greeks in San Francisco worshiped at the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1902, the Hellenic Mutual Benevolent Society organized meetings for the purpose of founding a Greek Orthodox Church in San Francisco. In January 1903, the community elected trustees and sent for a priest. In April 1903, the community purchased land for a church on the corner of Seventh and Cleveland streets.

Fr. Tsapralis arrived in the United States on May 19, 1903.  On September 17, 1904, his wife Eleni, son Basil, daughter Aphroditi, and nephew Apostolos arrived in the United States. The Tsapralis family was from Sanga, Greece.  Father Tsapralis' priestly rank was "Sakellarios". This term was an administrative title used for someone who keeps financial records, ie. treasurer.

Fr. Tsapralis was the first priest to appear in the official records of Holy Trinity. It is important to note that there were Greek priests in San Francisco serving the Greek community prior to the founding of Holy Trinity. However, it is very clear that the Greek community hired Fr. Tsapralis as the first priest of Holy Trinity. He signed a contract at a rate of $80 per month in gold coin for five years. The first Divine Liturgy was celebrated December 25, 1903.

Holy Trinity was the first Greek Orthodox Church west of Chicago. During those early years several priests served Holy Trinity. In a sense it functioned as a cathedral church, with priests traveling to California, Nevada, and as far as Arizona performing baptisms, marriages, etc. In some cases, Fr. Tsapralis traveled as far as Fresno by horse and buggy. These priests at times endured harsh conditions.  They were dedicated, energetic, and paved the way for those who followed. 

Holy Trinity was completely destroyed by the 1906 Earthquake & Fire. Father saved the church records and important church artifacts. Immediately after the earthquake, liturgy was conducted at the home of Alexander Kosta, one of Holy Trinity's founders.

In 1908 there was a disagreement over parish council elections and the handling of money. The disagreement turned violent on July 12, 1908, when police were called to Holy Trinity (San Francisco Call, 7-13-1908, "War Raged at the Door of the Sanctuary"). A faction led by Ioannis Kapsimalis (former parish council president and Greek Consul) decided to start their own church. They purchased land on Rincon Hill (Stanley/Sterling Place), built a church which they named St. John Prodromos (see photograph). They built offices and a meeting hall which they named the "Alexander the Great Meeting Hall." They hired Father Tsapralis as their first priest. The Holy Trinity community in turn hired Fr. Stefanos Macaronis as their next priest.

On December 2, 1909, the factions resolved their differences and St. John Prodromos ceased to exist.  Fr. Tsapralis was rehired by Holy Trinity and Fr. Stefanos Macaronis moved to a parish in Oregon. From 1910 until the church was raised to install a meeting hall in 1922, this property served as the offices and meeting hall for the community.  The property was later sold to the State of California to make room for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

During Father's early years in San Francisco, the Tsapralis family moved several times.

San Francisco City Directory Listings

1904-1906 -- No listing

1907-- 23 Chesley Street 

1908-1909 -- 132 Julian Avenue

1910 -- 343 Seventh Street

1911-1922 -- 11A Cleveland Street

1922-1942 -- 24 Cleveland Street

The 1910 Federal Census lists his residence as 18A Rondell Street. The census shows that in addition to the family,  Fr. Tsapralis' nephew and two boarders were living at this residence.

In 1910, Father's contract with Holy Trinity was renewed for two years at a rate of $100 per month in gold coin. However, the Tsapralis family did not depend solely on Father's salary as a priest. The Tsapralis family owned two businesses, a saloon at 831 Howard Street, and a candy store at 3091 Sixteenth Street.

By today's standards, a priest running a business might be looked somewhat negatively. However, one hundred years ago it was thought of more positively. Fr. Tsapralis had a large family to support. The parish was not going to pay him more money. Going into business became a matter of necessity and it was accepted by the parish community.

Father Tsapralis' business activities made the news in the Morning Oregonian (11-18-1911: Pastor Runs a Saloon). The article states that Father sold the candy store to Presvytera and prior to the sale of the business he did not pay a $300 bill for a soda fountain and other fixtures. As a result, a collection agency sued and obtained a judgment against the candy store. The San Francisco sheriff seized the property and Presvytera Eleni sued the San Francisco sheriff for unlawful seizure asking for $2000 in damages.

In 1913, a Greek man named Prantikos was convicted of murder. Fr. Tsapralis was asked to go to San Quentin to administer the last rights before Prantikos was hung for his crime. The event, described in the San Francisco Call Bulletin, said that Fr. Tsapralis was reading prayers on the way to the gallows. He was described as a strong, tall man. On the gallows, his knees buckled and he wavered at the sight before him. The prison chaplain put his arm around him to support him because he was worried that he might fall through the gallows. Fr. Tsapralis continued reading prayers and he witnessed the hanging. The prison chaplain later described him as a kind, gentle soul.

Fr. Tsapralis, over the years, has been described as "durable". During Fr. Tsapralis' years of service the Greek community went through the 1906 earthquake & fire and several schisms that fractured the Greek community. Fr. Tsapralis led Holy Trinity through all these difficult periods. 

Fr. Tsapralis was often described as kind & compassionate. The older members of the community described him as a good teacher and someone who was gentle with the children.

In 1936, the Archdiocese sent Fr. Vasilios Lokis to Holy Trinity. Fr. Tsapralis was getting ready to retire. The intent was to send Fr. Tsapralis an assistant who would eventually take over as priest.  A few months later, Fr. Lokis tried to unite the two Greek churches in San Francisco, Annunciation & Holy Trinity. Annunciation voted for unification and Holy Trinity voted against it. Anastasios Haritsis, the president of Holy Trinity's parish council, wrote several letters to the Archbishop in New York asking him to remove Fr. Lokis. The community filed a lawsuit preventing him from entering Holy Trinity property. The lawsuit was settled. Fr. Lokis left Holy Trinity and was hired by Annunciation. Holy Trinity later hired a priest not affiliated with the Archdiocese. As a result, Fr. Tsapralis wrote the Archbishop asking him for permission to leave Holy Trinity and join Annunciation and his request was granted. Father served the Annunciation community until his passing in 1942.

In 1937, Father Tsapralis filed a lawsuit against Holy Trinity for back pay. The basis for the lawsuit:  Father Tsapralis' contract with Holy Trinity stated that he was guaranteed a minimum salary of $110 per month. Father Tsapralis stated that his salary was reduced to $90 per month after he opposed a Parish Council decision in 1930 for a lottery fundraiser.  He sued for $1320 in back pay and won. (See Oakland Tribune article). 

On 12/30/1934, Presvytera Eleni died of complications from appendicitis. After Presvytera Eleni's passing Father was given the title of Archimandrite by Archbishop Athenagoras and given the name "Benjamin". Fr. Tsapralis passed away May 8, 1942 at the age of 73. Father Tsapralis was interred at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Colma (see photograph).

Father and Presvytera Eleni were blessed with three sons; Basil (1/1/1901 - 7/14/1963), Paul (8/16/1905 - 7/30/1977) , & John (10/22/1913 - 11/4/1992)  and three daughters; Aphroditi (1/8/1895 - 9/8/1953), Madeline (7/2/1910 - 1/13/1991), and Mary (3/20/1909 - 1/4/1910).

Father's daughter Aphroditi (Effie) married Athanasios (Tom) Sagris in February, 1912 (see photograph). The couple settled in Turlock, California. Tom Sagris ran a grocery market at 236 E. Main Street in Turlock, CA. (the market was later moved to 436 E. Main).  Census records show the couple lived at 110 Elm Street (which is now S. Palm Street)  in Turlock, CA.  Tom Sagris passed away in 1931 from injuries sustained in an automobile accident. Tom Sagris is interred at the Tsapralis family plot at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Colma (see photograph). Effie married John Flesoras in 1933 at Holy Trinity in San Francisco. They had one son, Dean.

Father's daughter Madeline at a young age was legally adopted by Tom Sagris, her sister Effie's first husband. She changed her name to Madeline Tsapralis Sagris. When Madeline was growing up she spent part of the year working at the Sagris grocery market in Turlock. She also worked as a medical stenographer, and at the City of Paris Department Store. Madeline married Donald Phillips (1922 - 1995) and they had two children, Stephanie Elaine and James Forrest. She had her own beauty shop. Her husband Donald had his own house painting business. They lived in Oakland and Redwood City, CA.

Father's son Paul married Cleo Joy Manousos Stacy (1910 - 1984). Paul became a doctor (a radiologist). After serving in World War II, he worked at the Livermore Veteran's Hospital in Livermore, CA. Cleo had one daughter, Marianne, from her first marriage.  The couple had no children. Cleo was a secretary a Lawrence Livermore Lab. They retired to King's Beach, CA.

Father's son John married Johanna Manousos (1913 - 2003). Johanna was a teacher. After serving in World War II, the couple moved to Tacoma, Washington where John got a job with the Internal Revenue Service.  They had two children, Constantine (Dean) and Marilyn.

Cleo Joy Manousos Stacy and Johanna Manousos, Paul and John's wives respectively, were sisters.

Father's son Basil married Elizabeth (Betty) Hustedt (1899 - 1991). The couple initially lived with Father and Presvytera at 24 Cleveland Street. During the 1940s the couple lived in Turlock at 117 Elm Street (which is now S. Palm Street) and Basil worked at the Sagris Grocery Market. Their home was across the street from the Flesoras family home.  They later settled in San Francisco. They had a son Constantine (who later changed his name to Robert). Basil ran a Jitney car service before opening a barber shop at the UCSF Medical Center. In later years he ran a barber shop on Ellis and Powell. Basil and Betty are interred at the Tsapralis family plot at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Colma.

Father's great grandson, Fr. Chris Flesoras, currently serves the SF Metropolis as the priest of St. Anna Greek Orthodox Church in Roseville, CA.

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Contents copyright : Jim Lucas & Greek Historical Society of the San Francisco Bay Area